Millions of American children and teens are heading back to school this season. While much of their academic success can be credited to their parents, teachers, guidance counselors and educational materials, the importance of their home environment should not be understated. Whether a brand new kindergartener or a graduating class of 2024 senior, having the right setup to study and do homework can have a powerful impact on their academic success. Three experts weighed in by email with solutions for creating home spaces, including technology, space planning and design ideas you can easily implement.
Smart Home Technology
Kansas City-based smart home technology integrator Joseph Acree is getting more requests for kids’ study spaces, he reported, likening them to “home offices for children.” And, as with their adult counterparts, these areas need to include the basics (data connections and potentially displays, cameras and sound bars for remote learning), but can also include wellness enhancements.
“For example,” he suggested, “having tunable lighting can make a big difference in productivity.” (It can also help with sleep, an absolute wellness essential for kids of all ages.) “Being able to tie all this technology together in one smart home system makes it easy to hit a single button and have the scene set for ‘homework time’ or ‘remote learning,’ which can turn on the display, the camera and sound bar. Automating these features makes them all the easier to use,” he shared.
Parental controls is another area where technology can assist, especially with the youngest children, and where Acree said he is getting more requests. These can be customized based on the child and types of restrictions they need. “We have a 12-year-old who is extremely responsible and uses his devices primarily for learning. On the flip side, our 17-year-old needs to be restricted at times because he will be on his devices all day, every day if we allowed it.” Flexibility is key for parents, he observed.
Acree also pointed out that “there is a grey area between reliance on technology and what is [left] up to the individual to make responsible decisions. Parents have to be aware of what can influence or disrupt the educational process, so we can guide our children on responsible technology usage. Network security, awareness, and continuous education are critical to these processes.” Working with a professional can shed light on what’s available and how to implement it, he added.
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Elementary School Students
Even your youngest children should be part of the design planning process, advised Karen Aronian, Ed.D.. “Ideally, elementary-aged kids should be their study spaces’ lead designers and general contractors,” suggested the New York area professional (and former public school teacher), who designs educational spaces for academic, hospitality, and private clientele.
Starting out can be challenging, Toronto-based psychologist Dr. Bev Walpole, C. Psych., shared, citing motivation, focus, self-discipline, time management and technology usage as issues to navigate. “Elementary school children may find it difficult to stay motivated and focused on their studies at home,” she pointed out. “Learning to manage time and prioritize tasks is a skill that young children are still developing.” Getting this right requires understanding each child’s unique needs and keeping communication open, the psychologist noted, but the rewards include helping them develop essential skills and supporting academic progress.
“Once you have your design framework considerations detailed (budget, theme, furnishings, essential materials, personalized decor add-ons), you can create their learning space together,” Aronian continued. “Recreate the elements at home that will benefit your child and partner with their teacher to boost your child’s education.”
You’ll want to think about the study area’s layout with regard to the child’s seated direction and view, ideally out of a door or window. You also need to factor in lighting, storage and shelving, climate control, air quality and details that personalize the space for your child. “Showcase their work and education posters,” the former teacher noted. As they advance through grades, you’ll be reinventing the space together, she added.
The ideal homework/study space may live outside of a child’s room, especially if it’s space challenged. “I was reimagining hallway closets into study spaces decades ago, which are now mainstream,” Aronian recalled. Any space can be a learning space. She sees kitchens as ideal workspaces for elementary students who need parental cues to stay on task. She also likes outdoor spaces as seasonal spots: “I recently helped a client design a pirate’s crow’s nest treehouse that serves as their twins’ go-to study space,” she shared.
Middle School Students
These adolescents have different needs than their younger siblings, and parents still have a key role to play, Walpole advised. “Set up a quiet and well-lit area in the home specifically for studying and homework. This space should be free from distractions and equipped with the necessary learning materials.”
Technology will play a role. “Set guidelines for screen time and encourage your child to use technology for productive learning activities. Limit access to social media and video games during study hours,” the psychologist recommended. At the same time, peer interaction is also crucial at this age, she added. “Facilitate opportunities for your child to interact with friends and classmates through virtual hangouts or study sessions. Social connections are vital for emotional well-being and can also support collaborative learning.”
When it comes to the room’s look and feel, “Tweens generally know what they want and don’t want,” Aronian observed about those students between ages 10 and 12. “In this regard, a parent/guardian is more of a facilitator than a collaborator,” she added. They’re going to be more familiar with the technology, furnishings and color schemes they prefer by that age and grade. “I love home improvement stores for endless ideas to jumpstart tween’s design input,” she added.
“If they’re all about tech, the setup may be a metaverse smart space; with a clap, they’ll command Alexa to commence ChatGPT practice. Or maybe your child works best in nature-driven environs, where an inside/outside approach offers the ultimate snuggery.”
Middle schoolers’ spaces often have to multi-task, Aronian commented. “When setting up a tween’s study, consider their passions that drive how the space functions. Students who stream content or Zoom for study sessions will want a quality webcam and gaming chair. They’ll require a green screen wall if they’re in performing arts. These are considerations for designers to best manifest their client’s goals,” the educational designer suggested. Switching up locations while studying is also proven to imprint information better, she added.
Acree observed that kids are more tech savvy than their parents might think, so if there’s a concern around technology access, bringing in a professional is a way to ensure that the systems they set up can’t be bypassed.
High School Students
“High schoolers know they’re on a fast track to a college dorm room and libraries. They’re looking for organized study spaces that offer efficiency and utility,” Aronian commented. When planning their spaces, it’s important to consider whether they’ll be an all-in-one room for sleep, study, lounging, gaming and mindfulness. Some parents are opting for study spaces ‘in a box’ that just require measuring and installation.
It can be a challenging time for this older age group too, Walpole observed. “Adolescents are at a stage where they are striving for more autonomy. They may resist the idea of a structured study space at home, viewing it as a restriction on their freedom.” They may also struggle with feelings of isolation, lack of motivation and digital distractions, the psychologist added. “The process of establishing a suitable study space and routine at home may lead to conflicts between adolescents and their parents.”
Parents can overcome challenges like this by including their adolescents in the process of creating both space and schedule, setting realistic expectations, and setting boundaries around tech use, Walpole recommended. “This involvement can help them feel more ownership for their study environment.”
“Movement and seating options are critical for all ages, even within a small study space,” Aronian recommended. “A standing desk, a cozy spot with plush pillows on the floor, and a conventional desk are best for students K to 12,” she advised. Be prepared to reconfigure and revise as your child ages too. “The challenge is not to let your child’s learning environment get stale.”
Contributors Acree, Aronian and Walpole will be sharing more back-to-school space insights in an hour-long Clubhouse conversation tomorrow afternoon (August 2, 2023) at 4 pm Eastern/1 pm Pacific. You can save the date and join this WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS discussion here. If you’re unable to attend, you can catch the recording via Clubhouse Replays here or the Gold Notes design blog here next Wednesday.